Colón, Colombo and Columbus

The Spanish know him as Cristóbal Colón. The Italians know him as Cristoforo Colombo the Italian explorer. We know him as simply Christopher Columbus, the guy who “discovered” the New World (while looking for India, but that’s another story). So who is right? Here’s what you need to know.

Columbus was most likely born in 1451 in the Republic of Genoa (1005-1797), so perhaps the Italians might be on to something. But consider that Italy didn’t exist until Garibaldi united it in 1871 when Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. Even worse, the Kingdom of Genoa became part of France in 1805 thanks to Napolean, then later part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Not quite clear that he was “Italian”. Some historians claim he was born in Aragon in Spain, or possibly in Portugal, although this is not the generally accepted history. He claims to have gone to sea at the age of 10, and spent most of his life sailing the known world for various nations for trade, exploration and even naval warfare.

Between 1492 and 1503 Columbus sailed four times to the New World on behalf of the “Catholic Monarchs”, the joint title of Queen Isabella I of the Kingdom of Castile and King Ferdinand II of the Kingdom of Aragon (who united what is basically Spain today). His strong connection to Spain is felt by Spaniards today who see Columbus as representative of Spain’s significant role in discovering the New World. Being taught in school that his name is Colón, they cannot be blamed for thinking of him as one of their own.

The English-speaking world knows him as Columbus because historians chose to use the Anglicized version of the Latin form of his name, Christophorus Columbus. At least nobody claims he’s British.

As an interesting footnote: Columbus was never convinced that he had not discovered Asian continent that was documented by Marco Polo and other European explorers. Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary of Columbus (also born in Italy and working for Spain), participated in several voyages to the West Indies, and is documented by history as being the first person to prove that the “New World” was not east Asia, but rather a new, unknown territory. This is the main reason why America was named after Amerigo (”Americus” in Latin) Vespucci, and not Christopher Columbus. Otherwise we’d have two continents called North and South Christophora.

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